The image above is a watercolor of Samudra manthana, the Churning of the Ocean. The British Museum provides a description of the image:
“This event took place during the second incarnation of Visnu as Kurma, the tortoise. The painting shows Visnu seated on the top of Mount Mandara, here represented as a pole. He holds a discus, sword, conch and lotus in his four hands and has a golden nimbus around his head. Around the pole is wrapped the snake Vasuki. On one side the snake is pulled by the gods and on the other it is pulled by the Danava’s. On the shore of the ocean are the objects which have emerged during the churning, which include Laksmi, Varuni, the conch, the elephant mount of Brahma, Airavata, Surabhi the wish fulfilling cow and the vessel holding amrita which bestows immortality on the drinker. A crescent moon is shown in the top left corner of the painting. The painting is surrounded by a black border.”
From an archetypal perspective, Vishnu is an image of the Self. The central pole may be seen as the axis mundi. The axis mundi is the world pole which offers a connection between the three worlds or three states of consciousness. The snake is wrapped around the pole, an image of the instincts– both lower and higher. The gods and demons churn the great sea of milk by pulling on either ends of the snake. This image may be seen as representing the synthesis of Self, and thus of psychic wholeness and Oneness.
“I am up in the hills and looking for a place to camp. The hills are golden-colored, rolling, as you would find in Northern California. I am walking along the hilltops for a while and then I come to a cave. I peek inside the cave and I see a little old hermit. I say to the hermit, “Hello.” And I ask, “Is there a place to camp up here upon the hilltops?” The hermit says, “No!” I look around and I say, “But there is so much room up here in the golden hills.” Then, as I am looking around, I see that at the entrance of the cave, there is a hill and the hill is the head of a huge snake. I shift my perspective and look into the distance: seeing that this snake spans into the distance, running for many miles over the hilltops.”
In the dream, we find the image of cave. In the Upanishads, a cave is found in the depths of the heart. In there, in the cave of the heart, the cosmic Self is discovered. The Katha Upanishad (1.11-13) says “he [the cosmic Self] dwells in the cave [of the heart] of all beings.”